ILO Future of Work Commission: ITUC Welcomes Calls for Revitalised Social Contract and Universal Labour Guarantee

The ITUC has welcomed calls made by the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work for revitalisation of the Social Contract, and for all workers to be protected by a Universal Labour Guarantee which guarantees organising, collective bargaining and other fundamental workers’ rights along with health and safety at work, an adequate living wage and limits on working hours.

The report of the Commission, co-Chaired by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Swedish Prime Minster Stefan Löfven, was launched at the ILO Headquarters in Geneva today. Three worker representatives took part in the Commission, Luc Cortebeeck, Philip Jennings and Reema Nanavaty, along with representatives from governments, employers, academics and NGOs.

“This report is an important step on the road to the ILO Centenary Conference in June, where trade unions will be pressing for far-reaching and concrete decisions to shape a world of work that is, in the words of the Commission, human centred. It contains many important recommendations on life-long learning, support for workers to manage transitions at work, gender equality, rural and informal workers, investment in care and infrastructure, climate adjustment as well as social protection. It sets out a crucial role for public policy with governments needing to regulate and ensure the delivery of services across the board, and supports the development of new economic indicators beyond the narrow scope of GDP,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

Luc Cortebeeck said: “The Commission recognised that the way globalisation left behind the majority of workers in the world cannot be repeated with the Future of Work. Regulation and protection of workers’ rights is a must for the new forms of work. The employment relationship remains the centrepiece of labour protection and the Commission recommends the establishment of a Universal Labour Guarantee, with freedom of association, collective bargaining, freedom from forced labour, child labour and discrimination, and very importantly: an adequate living wage, limits on hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces.”

The Commission’s finding that business models must align with a human-centred agenda recognises that the challenge is as much about new forms of business as about new forms of work. Regulation of businesses in the digital age must be based on a social license to operate that ensures compliance with rules on taxation, the collection and use of data, labour, environmental and other standards, and reigns in the monopolistic and irresponsible forms of business that are today dominating the global economy. The strong focus on the importance of collective representation of workers is welcome, at a time when violence and repression against trade unionists is on the increase, freedom of association is denied to some or all workers in 93 countries and giant corporations use their power to deny workers the right to organise.

“The transformations in business and the world of work have been leaving people behind, but now we have a plan, coming out of this Commission, to put people at the centre. Labour is not a commodity, and the prophets of Uberisation have been put on notice. The Commission’s report shows the way ahead, and now governments and employers alike have to accept their responsibilities,” said Philip Jennings.

According to Reema Nanavaty, “It is encouraging that the Commission takes seriously the need for the ILO to provide urgent responses to the informal workers in the global South. To this end, the Universal Labour Guarantee must also include ‘adequate living income’, as for the informal workers and the self- employed, it is the income that matters. Similarly, productivity can only be enhanced by enabling access to up-skilling and modern tools to all workers, independent of their status. The will of the international labour movement to strengthen representation of informal workers as well as rural workers in its ranks should be a model not only for trade unions but also for the ILO and its constituents as a whole: the organization really needs to become more relevant to all sectors of workers of the world and transform itself into a New Age Labour Organization – the report mentions this in the preface, but now it is time to shape policies and processes.”

The report takes as a starting point the enormous challenges facing the world, with hundreds of millions of people unemployed, hundreds of thousands of workers losing their lives at work each year, huge levels of informal economic activity, almost half the world’s households not connected to the internet, and major demographic issues facing different countries and regions. It notes that 300 million workers live in extreme poverty, that wage growth has not kept pace with productivity growth and that the share of national income going to workers has declined. The likelihood of major impacts of technological change on jobs and skills is also addressed.

“While the implementation of the Universal Labour Guarantee will provide a much-needed floor of rights, and put an end to sham arrangements by companies to deny rights and entitlements to their workforce, revitalising the social contract is the means by which societies can ensure fairness and equity at work, and reverse the huge and growing inequality which is reality today. The ILO Constitution, an ambitious social contract, was adopted in the aftermath of the devastation of World War I, and the Philadelphia Declaration similarly after World War II. A strong and universal social contract is the best guarantor of world peace, and that is as true today as it has even been. The Commission’s report highlights the need for the ILO to be at the centre of global governance, and the trade union movement will fight for that to become a reality in this, its centenary year,” said Burrow.

The report is available here